Fire out on Gulf well that ‘snuffed itself out’

A drilling rig that caught fire after a natural gas blowout in the Gulf of Mexico appears stable now that the fire is out, and there was no sign of any oil sheen on a fly-over Thursday morning, a rig company executive said.

“The well essentially snuffed itself out,” said Jim Noe, a vice president with the rig owner Hercules Offshore Inc., speaking in a telephone interview.

The well had blown wild Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of 44 workers. The rig caught fire Tuesday night and part of it collapsed.

The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced Thursday morning that the well had clogged with sand and sediment, a process called “bridging over” that Noe said can commonly happen with shallow water wells.

Now, officials are focusing efforts on permanently plugging the well and finding out why it blew wild — including why the blowout prevention system on the rig failed to stop the accident.

There were no injuries when the blowout occurred about 55 miles off the Louisiana coast at a well operated by Walter Oil & Gas.

When the fire was raging, officials said they were preparing to drill a relief well nearby to divert the gas and end the blowout and fire. Such a step is probably not necessary now that the fire is out and the well has bridged over, said Adam Bourgoyne, an industry consultant and a former dean of Louisiana State University’s petroleum engineering department.

He said finding some way to seal or cap the well permanently will be much easier now. Well control experts should now be able to get close to the rig and examine it.

“You never know anything for certain, but usually if it bridges it doesn’t restart,” Bourgoyne said.

The rig is in 154 feet of water, relatively shallow in terms of offshore drilling.